Case Study: VAR Helps Keep Data Safe And Sound

Three years ago, Skywalker recruited SAN Solutions, a reseller based in Reno, Nev., to help set up a SAN that could handle the sound company's file-sharing and backup requirements. Today, after several attempts and lots of effort, Skywalker has what it wants.

"At one point, I asked Harry [Aine, SAN Solutions president and CEO] point blank, 'Why are you putting all this effort into [our solution] and not making any money?' " said Tim McGovern, director of engineering at Skywalker. "His answer: 'You give us intestinal fortitude.' "

>> SAN Solutions tried out several hardware-software combinations to meet Skywalker's data requirements. One such pilot SAN was used during the production of "Jurassic Park III."

According to McGovern and Aine, SAN Solutions gained invaluable experience from the Skywalker deployment.

The two companies first met in spring 2000 at a National Association of Broadcasters show in Las Vegas. There, SAN Solutions was demonstrating storage virtualization, Aine said.

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The idea of virtualizing data so that it could be located in a centralized pool for easy access and management appealed to San Francisco-based Skywalker,one of the first companies in its field to move to digital recording from analog.

Skywalker originally used a removable hard-drive-based audio file system, so the only way to move files from one user to another was to physically move the drive, said Jacob Balser, network administrator at Skywalker.

Also, the company was using ProTools, an application that allowed it to work only with local SCSI drives. "If we needed to back up files, we had to physically take them to another room and copy them to tape," he said.

Skywalker and SAN Solutions went through four vendors' products to find the right hardware-software combination to meet the sound company's data requirements.

One vendor asked why Skywalker didn't change its software application. "It sounded simple," McGovern said. "But [the company was] locked on ProTools. It's the best by far, and there are few alternatives."

The solution provider installed a pilot SAN based on a hard-drive-based array that it OEMed from a vendor called Xyratex, said Aine. First the SAN was used for "102 Dalmatians," then for "Jurassic Park III." Both generated positive feedback and seemed to be moving Skywalker in the right direction, Aine said.

But there were some issues, the biggest of which was the array's limited scalability, he said.

In January 2002, SAN Solutions brought in an EMC Symmetrix 5, but it never went online.

Then, in August, the solution provider set up a Lightning 9980V array from Hitachi Data Systems at the vendor's Santa Clara, Calif., headquarters. There, the array was used for five or six other customer projects, and it passed muster.

The 9980V was used when "Panic Room" was produced, and most of the array's debugging took place at that time, Aine said.

In late October, testing was finalized, and the 9980V was officially deployed. Since then, it's worked perfectly, and the only thing SAN Solutions has had to do is increase the storage capacity to make space for additional sound libraries. A couple of months ago, the solution provider added a Hitachi 9970 to help with disk-to-disk backup.

SAN Solutions has worked with several clients in the rich media space. The company helped Sony set up facilities for converting films to DVD format and helped Sony Computer Entertainment set up a distributed SAN between Foster City, Calif., and San Diego for data replication. The integrator also worked with the Johnson Space Flight Center in Houston.

But it was the Skywalker project that gave SAN Solutions the most experience in the rich media space, Aine said. "Now we have a solution set and we know the applications," he said. "We can apply this experience elsewhere. Everything else looks easy after working with a company like Skywalker."


COMPANY: SAN Solutions

FOCUS: Rich media, movie audio processing

PROBLEM & SOLUTION: Skywalker Sound needed a nonremovable hard-drive-based storage system so that it wouldn't have to physically move drives to share

audio files.

PRODUCTS & SERVICES USED: Hitachi Data Systems Lightning 9980V array; Macintosh workstations, servers

> Understanding specific verticals,in this case, the rich media market,is key when it comes time to mix and match legacy applications with the latest hardware.

> Be prepared to experiment with different solutions.

> A challenging project can be an effective expertise-builder.